Operation Table Tennis

This was the US airborne landing of Colonel George M. Jones’s 503rd Parachute Infantry over Kamiri airfield on Noemfoor island off the north-west coast of New Guinea within the context of ‘Cyclone’ (3/4 July 1944).

Preceded by the gunfire bombardment of Commodore J. A. Collins’s Task Force 74 with the Australian heavy cruisers Australia and Shropshire, and Rear Admiral Russell S. Berkey’s TF75 with the US light cruisers Boise, Nashville and Phoenix, together with 15 destroyers, on 2 July 'Cyclone' had been launched by Rear Admiral William M. Fechteler’s TF77, which landed Brigadier General Edwin D. Patrick’s initial assault force of 7,100 men centred on the 158th Infantry without meeting any Japanese opposition, the amphibian tractors carrying the first assault waves overrunning Kamiri airfield before the troops dismounted behind the coral ledge on the airfields farther side and started to move inland against minimal resistance. By a time late in the afternoon a beach-head 3,000 yards (2740 m) wide by 800 yards (730 m) deep had been established, and US casualties at this stage were about 25, the Japanese having lost 115 dead.

On the following day units moved out of their beach-head, and on the basis of mistaken intelligence from prisoner interrogations that a force of 3,000 Japanese reinforcements had landed on Noemfoor a week before the Allied landing, Patrick requested that his force be reinforced by US paratroops. The 503rd Parachute Infantry was therefore ordered to parachute on to the secured Kamiri airfield to reinforce the ground troops as the Japanese strength was still unknown and also to accelerate the seizure of the island.

There were insufficient troop-carrying aircraft to deliver the regiment in a single lift, so it was decided to deliver one battalion per day between 3 and 5 July. Staging from Cyclops airfield at Hollandia, the 1/503rd Parachute Infantry jumped at 10.00 from a steam of aircraft flying two abreast, but the combination of the low-altitude drop (resulting from faulty altimeters), parked vehicles, equipment and supply dumps, wrecked Japanese aircraft, and trees along side the runway resulted in 72 casualties among the 739 paratroopers. The 3/503rd Parachute Infantry was dropped on the following day by aircraft flying in a single stream at a slightly higher altitude over the cleared runway, but even so the 685 men suffered 56 injuries. The 2/503rd Parachute Infantry’s jump was then cancelled and on the following day this unit was flown to Mokmer airfield on Biak island, then embarked in landing craft to reach Noemfoor on 11 July.

The casualties had been completely unnecessary, both because the intelligence was incorrect and because the 34th Infantry, with a full complement of heavy weapons, was at Biak and therefore a mere 10 hours distant by sea.